25 January 2009
Right now the date of the previous post just below this is from last year*. I'm not going to make much in the way of excuses for the gap. I've posted enough of those before. Believe me when I say the last several months were not uneventful.
Just before, or soon thereafter, that aforementioned previous post, I was told at work that my position was being moved to another non-downtown location, and my computer, my phone, my chair and me would move with it. At the time I was more than unhappy about that prospect, and everything hasn't yet played out completely, but for the time being I'm pretty happy there with things and people as they are. I just hadn't felt like writing about it. More changes are to come later this year as we are due to move again, so I can't get used to too much yet.
So what else? Why haven't I written? I've still been doing pretty much the same stuff, save for writing about it. I've been watching just as many DVDs as before, playing some video games here and there (I've come to think that the PSP was a great platform that is not too far from being the next Dreamcast for how a system's actual potential turns into how well it does for the market at large) but none of them was so noteworthy as to merit anything more than the odd mention on Twitter.
Oh yes, Twitter. To say I haven't written since August is to ignore all the words I've txted and tweeted to my Twitter status updates several hundred times, up to one hundred and forty characters each. It's no substitute for this site, and at some point I'll probably need to come up with some sort of export/dump so I can grab that chunk of my digital output and shoehorn it in with the rest of this, assuming I have some sort of output in the days and years ahead.
But enough with the melancholy. If I try to fit everything in I'll lose steam on what got me back at the keyboard in the first place. This post isn't very good, but I'm rather a bit out of practice. If you'd bear with me for a couple weeks (assuming I write during them) that'd probably be best for the both of us.
So I just watched a DVD. It was called Who killed the electric car? and it was not a great film, documentary or otherwise. It was too long, too slanted, too unfocused, and too often contrived. I recognized that, even while I was watching it (and really, knew about it going in thanks to most of the less-than-favorable reviews it garnered back in 2006), but it still got to me.
The argument put forward by the film, and I hope I'm not spoiling it in any way because people really should see this movie, is that the Zero Emission Vehicles mandated in California a decade ago, and produced by GM, Toyota, Honda, Ford and probably others not mentioned, were great technology that worked, and deserved far better than to have been swept under the rug, the cars not only forgotten but crushed and/or shredded, and their environmentally-friendly mantle taken up by less-than-worthy successors, and the blame falls upon not only the car companies, but also the government(s) and consumers alike. And a few other "suspects", but I don't want to give everything away.
Shifting gears slightly for a moment, I must admit I have a problem throwing things away that aren't yet broken and useless. The headphones I use daily at my desk only work in one ear. At least two of the digital cameras I use have pieces broken or missing. My iPod, already on its third hard drive, often needs less-than-gentle encouragement (that is, whacking it with my hand repeatedly) to get going. One of our cars, not my daily driver anymore, doesn't have working air conditioning. I'm using reclaimed car speakers for my home theater system. I have piles and heaps and bins of stuff that may turn out to be useful (and many have, though less than a majority of the things I haven't thrown out). So just seeing the stacked GM EV1s (read about them here), crushed and left to rot, bothers me on that level. Never mind the environmental aspects of crushing all those batteries, and metal and plastics that likely won't get recycled.
When those cars were crushed (and likewise the shredded Hondas, etc) with them was crushed a major hope for making things better for today and tomorrow both. Here (and now I'm talking about those EV1s) was a fleet of perfectly adequate, technologically advanced but entirely functional, people moving vehicles that people wanted to own, liked to drive, and loved to talk about. Sure, there are some doubts that switching cars from burning fuel to running batteries charged by burning other fuels, but those concerns could be handled easily if we, as a country, if not as a global society, stopped looking backward and dragging our heels today and looking forward with fear and trepidation, and embraced new and promising technologies for what they could do to get us from always needing to burn things to get what we want.
To oversimplify a related issue, new nuclear power plants could generate a whole lot more, relatively clean and considerably safe, electricity, but they happen to produce some by-products that could be devastatingly useless (read: dangerous and deadly) if they fell into the wrong hands. Fear of terrorism isn't the only thing keeping American reactor technology in the 70s, but from what I've heard, it's one major contributing factor.
Back to the cars, though. It's easy to follow the filmmakers when they point out that barely a month passed between GM's acquisition of the Hummer nameplate, and the shutdown of the EV1's assembly line. Hummers could, and did, make money for GM hand over fist, and they weren't the only oversized peoplemovers on the road, just the most ridiculous. It should be telling that the suburban SUV is an American cliche, this being the land of selfish demand and greed. It's easy to follow their implication that the auto companies wanted nothing to do with the electric cars because it would shut down the whole regular maintenance and repairs and replacement part revenue streams. That there partially explains why so much more support has been thrown behind hydrogen fuel cell cars (untested and as-yet-unavailable technology) and gas-electric hybrids (the benefits of an electric motor along with the regular maintenance of a gas one too!) instead of all-electric ones.
Anyway, I'm losing steam quickly. My rage and sadness are subsiding, somewhat. It's easy to see this whole thing in the same light as the current economic crisis, brought about by unchecked and rampant greed in the housing and mortgage industries. It's all about greed. I'd say I'm all for capitalism, but honestly, if there's a better way to make a better future than sheer profit motive alone, that'd be super. If there's a way to stay in business, and satisfy shareholders, while doing something innovative that can lead some real change (like, say, creating a fleet of working electric cars and pickups and actually letting normal people drive and buy them), companies should want to do it. Even if it means they take a hit on their bottom lines for a while. Hell, right now everybody's taking a hit anyway, and for doing business as usual, not from worthwhile research and trailblazing new technologies.
If I were in charge, I know which I'd want to make a case to do, but then again, I'm not in charge.
I have a daughter, and I'm likely not finished having kids, either (as scary as that thought may be, for you and for me) and I should not, cannot, must not act now without every thought of the consequences to the world I'll leave them. Hell, if I do no better than both of my grandfathers, I've still got sixty years of living here too.
* I'm of divided mind as to what to do with the only other unpublished post I even got around to creating in draft form. Most likely I'll publish and date it that day, instead of backdating it as I had many a time before. And at the rate I'm going, I'll be doing that around Independence day. Hopefully sooner.